Europe can’t waste a single ray of sun


From pv magazine 06/23

Over the winter, for the first time, EU renewables generated more electricity than fossil fuel energy sources, with a 40% share of the energy mix. The high cost of fossil fuel imports and the need for energy independence after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine called for a major change in the EU energy system. One thing is definitely clear: Solar and renewables can power Europe in all seasons. This is only possible with strong and flexible energy infrastructure.

Worryingly, there are increasing reports of solar being curtailed. Czechia had to shut down a number of solar plants in April due to abundantly sunny weather. Similarly, Poland’s grid operator has recently declared an official “threat” to electricity supplies because of a surplus energy issue. All across Europe, developers and system operators are warning that, increasingly, the grid can’t handle the low-cost sustainable energy generated by the solar boom.

Failing to upgrade the grid and maximize flexibility borders on self-sabotage. In an energy and climate crisis, we cannot afford to waste a single electron of renewable electricity in favor of polluting fossil fuels. We need to start taking energy storage seriously, alleviate grid constraints, and get Europe’s electricity networks ready for the solar age.

Role for storage

Flexibility solutions including demand response and energy storage must play an active part in the energy transition. One example is solar with co-located energy storage. Such hybrid systems can play a pivotal role in meeting the flexibility needs of a decarbonized, decentralized energy system. More importantly, these systems have the ability to save every drop of extra energy produced by solar panels to ease the grid during pressure periods.

Ultimately, EU countries need to start fully implementing flexibility solutions such as energy storage to get the grid ready both in the short- and long-term. Despite excellent proposals for regulatory frameworks outlined in 2019, in the “Clean energy for all Europeans” package, little has advanced in Europe until now. Other regions, such as the United States, are forging ahead with flexibility deployment.

Fortunately, positive signs are on the horizon. The EU’s proposal to revise its electricity market design reflects existing potential, with suggested new tools aimed at developing non fossil fuel flexibility solutions including energy storage. These facilities are meant to alleviate pressure on the grid, deliver 24/7 solar, and help energy storage owners see a return on their investment.

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New coalition

SolarPower Europe is a founding partner of the recently launched Energy Storage Coalition, a new organization which is working to ramp up storage capacity across Europe and advance clean energy storage solutions as part of Europe’s overall energy transition. During the coalition’s recent launch event, EU Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson specifically emphasized that energy storage is key to building a future-proof, resilient, and decarbonized energy system. The solutions are clear: if we want to avoid future grid shutdowns, Europe will have to invest in storage capacity.

We can look to countries such as Greece for inspiration; the Athens government will be spending €341 million ($370 million) scaling up its energy storage capacity. The country has also recently launched a €200 million solar-plus-battery subsidy scheme for small storage systems and solar projects in the agricultural and residential markets.

If there is one thing we can take away from the last year, it is that renewable energy sources including solar are the future. Fossil fuels are a thing of the past. Renewable electricity has already proven that it can fight the energy crisis and we can expect the share of electricity generated by renewable energy to increase year on year.

To guarantee the continent’s energy security, Europe’s energy storage potential needs to be seriously considered and realized. Renewables can fully power Europe with a strong and flexible grid infrastructure. Let’s start future-proofing our grids by investing in energy storage and other flexibility solutions such as demand response, and avoid wasting any more rays of solar.

About the author: Walburga Hemetsberger has been working in Brussels for more than 18 years. Before joining SolarPower Europe as CEO in 2019, Hemetsberger headed the Verbund Representation Office in Brussels and was a board member of Hydrogen Europe. Her previous experience includes roles as head of the EU Representation Office at Verbund for nine years, financial and capital markets adviser at The Association of German Public Banks and Association of Public Banks, and competition lawyer at Haarmann Hemmelrath.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own, and do not necessarily reflect those held by pv magazine.

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